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 A sunny drive brought me to a very warm afternoon on the renowned Waluke slope, where after dropping off bins for the coming harvest, I walked the vineyard. Struggling vines with ripe fruit stretch away from me; the ends are not visible from my vantage. Quiet pervades the vast landscape, a stillness that reflects the slow ripening of the fruit, the coming energy of the winter.

Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon will hail from these vineyards. This area has a great reputation and is known for its red wines. Soils are sparse, mostly sand laid down by the Missoula floods that swept down the coulees of the Columbia. With careful deficit irrigation, the canopies are open and with the heat of this area, good things happen to the flavors of these grapes. Our source here is the old Doc Stewart vineyard, now organically farmed by the Gilbert Family.

Yesterday I looked at and sampled Malbec, Merlot and Chardonnay. Today I must get the Chardonnay and Malbec harvested, loaded and to the Lopez ferry. I am writing from the Rosa Berge Arrowsmith vineyard, farmed by organic grower Joe Cervantes. I listen to the pickers, as they cheerfully banter away with each other. The Taco Isabelle truck has just arrived! The workers stream from the vines, eager to replenish themselves. I join them, buying two tacos made with sliced beef, onion, lettuce, guacamole and a drink for only $3.50! These folks work hard and they are so unseen in our enjoyment of food and wine. I do get to see their work and thank them personally; I wish more people could see what it takes to get the wine to the bottle. Eighty percent of the work in wine is in the vineyard, as I know very well.

The morning air is clear and cool, the work easy amongst the sparse open canopy of these vines. It is a bit of a cliché to refer to struggling vines, but these vines set a definition for struggle. The statement is based in some fact, born out by generations of experience: Struggling vines have a more open, less vigorous canopy. A more open canopy allows more sunlight to directly shine on the developing fruit. Fruit that ripens in the sunshine has more intense fruit flavor.

This is our first harvest of Chardonnay from the Arrowsmith vineyard. I am feeling some trepidation in this change of farm, as there are a lot of unknowns for me. However, this vineyard is an old well documented vineyard, one I made wine from over 25 years ago, so I know it can do quality. The big attraction has been the organic certification that this vineyard now carries.

Harold Pleasant is the farmer of our Merlot. He farms his organic field, not far from Red Mountain, using very tight spacing on a vertical training system. After a trip to France, he decided to try this technique. His rows are closer together than any I have seen in the new world. Because the vines are so close, he has had to fabricate his own farm equipment to fit down these rows! His contraptions are ingenious! I can tell he likes to invent and weld things up, as his farm yard is full of homemade devices, where he has tried to improve on existing technology. The grapes this year look beautiful and the vines well balanced; not too vigorous or too much crop.

Well, I made the ferry that day, and now those wines are moving from tank to barrel. Some of these wines will be available in the next year; some will be two years in their aging. Meanwhile, we have some outstanding wines from the Crawford’s being bottled and released. Enjoy your winter and may it be filled with friends, family and good times. Brent Charnley, winemaker

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Random thoughts of a vintner; so begins my posting of life in the vineyards and winemaking here on Lopez Island WA. 

I hope to use this forum to share the everyday observations, trials, successes and all around interest of these endeavours.  Life of a vintner is timeless, harking back to a simpler era, never-the-less it also interfaces with the modern world and is influenced by that world.

Today is a good example: I expected to spend the better part of the day pruning in the vineyard.  This task must be completed before the buds begin to swell and thus is very time dependent.  Better be done by March 1!  And then there was the fine weather for it too: sunny and warm like January has been!  I was looking forward to being outside.

However, there was all the calls, emails and decisions to make in connection with ordering a new labeling machine, working out a printer and new layout for the labels.  All this is also time dependent and won’t wait!  Finally, after 2 pm, I was on my way back to the vineyard.  Paused on the way to taste our Madeleine Angevine.  This wine was in the process of being transfered back to its neutral oak barrels.  YES, it tastes good (even through my cold) and is that something I am very happy about.

Finally to the vineyard and began the meditative selecting and cutting.  This is my favorite task of all the tasks I do; there are no phones, sales people or other interruptions.  And, pruning is something I am good at, so it is fulfilling and easy.  Sun shone down, even at its low angle of the season, warming me out of first my jacket, then my sweatshirt and hat.  Pruning is the most critical of vineyard operations, it not only determines the coming crop for this year, but the shape of the vine and its fruitfulness for many years to come.  Truly an ancient art.  Here are a before and after photos.

 There is a summary of a day, a start to this blog and now sleep well deserved.

Cheers, Brent Charnley

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